Columbia County, Dayton eye planning merger

The plan would call for a joint planning commission and city planner who would report to the county planner.

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Columbia County and the city of Dayton are moving forward with a joint city-county planning agreement. Officials say the consolidation will save money and result in more efficient planning, ultimately allowing both bodies to get more done.

Under the proposed plan, Dayton and the county will have one joint planning commission. The county’s planner will oversee a city planner, and a board consisting of Mayor Craig George and Commissioner Mike Talbott would resolve any conflicts or confusions between the two.

County Planner Kim Lyonnais said an agreement makes financial sense, and would make the planning process clearer by having the city and the county work under the same set of rules.

“The city boundaries aren’t as visible to the general public as they are to jurisdictions,” he said.

Talbott said he hoped the agreement would clarify differences in zoning codes.

“We’d like to get that all straightened out,” he said.

In the past, Dayton has had contracts with the county for planning services, but George said these agreements often resulted in confusion due to a lack of clear communication between the two bodies. The county and city tried to reach a joint planning agreement several years ago, but couldn’t work out the details. Now, Talbott and George hope to have a plan in place by May 1.

“We’re committed to making this work,” George said.

Lyonnais was recently hired as the county planner, though the details of his contract have not been worked out yet. He has also been working as a city planner since October, though he is due to stop working for the city April 24. Under the joint agreement, Lyonnais will work full-time for the county, and the city will hire its own planner, who will report to Lyonnais.

George said agreements like this are common in smaller jurisdictions, where a city employee may work under the authority of the county or another city which has a larger department.

Many details of the agreement still need to be worked out, but the city and county are moving forward with discussions. At a meeting last week, county commissioners approved a resolution granting Talbott and Lyonnais the authority to continue discussions and finalize an agreement.

Lyonnais said the joint commission would provide more opportunities for public input, in addition to being able to accomplish more.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s a major step forward for the community,” he said.

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